Professor Xavier has called his X-Men in his study because there’s something he wants to tell them all. He is proud of them, new as well as old X-Men. Krakoa, the Living Island, was a formidable foe, but they all performed brilliantly against him. Now, as to the future…
Sunfire interrupts him and points out that, as to the future, it is a future that does not include him. Xavier does not understand. He thought Shiro had agreed to join them. Shiro corrects him: he agreed to help him – once. And once was quite enough. His duty is to his country and to his emperor. He cares nothing for the world Xavier offers. He wants none of it, none of Xavier and none of his X-Men! I see, Charles concedes. He asks if any of the rest of his new X-Men echo Sunfire’s thoughts. Nightcrawler? Thunderbird? Colossus? Colossus stammers he does not know… he….
Storm stresses that they have been together for barely two days. And two days are nothing. She is intrigued by the Professor’s offer. She will stay. “What the hey?” Wolverine agrees. It sure beats sitting around Alpha Base waiting for a go call.
Opening the door, Sunfire bids farewell to the Professor; him and his pack of idealistic fools. However, he asks Xavier to hear him: should he need this samurai’s help again, he is not to seek him out; he is not to ask, for Sunfire will refuse! He then flies up and away into the sky, severing his ties with the team.
Charles turns to Banshee: what about him? Will he go, or will he stay? Smoking his pipe, Banshee promises that he won’t lie to him. He likes it here and that’s the truth. But he won’t lie to himself, either. Xavier’s X-Men are all young people, students. Whereas Sean is a barely literate ex-cop and, like it or not, there’s some grey among his golden hair. It’s been grand, but it was time he was moving on.
“Rubbish!” the Professor rejoins. Sean’s hair is about as grey as his own and his brain’s a fraction keener. However, if these young people are too much of a challenge for Sean…, he says, trying to cleverly goad him into changing his mind. Sean falls into the trap: now he didn’t say that, did he? Since when has the Banshee ever refused a challenge? It’s just…
Cyclops points out that Banshee won’t have to run anymore. He’d be among friends. He’d… belong. Sean agrees: that’s the point. It’d be… nice to belong. Making up his mind, he tells Charles he’s sold and shakes his hand: he’s got himself a new X-Man. “Excellent, my friend,” Charles commends. And now that that’s all settled…
Angel intervenes and nervously admits that he’s afraid it isn’t all settled. Xavier asks him what he means. Warren is sorry… there’s no easy way to say this… they… the old X-Men… they’re… they’re leaving. Pulling out.
Charles is shocked: they’re… what?! But why? Warren? Jean? All of them? Why?! Marvel Girl takes the floor and tries to explain: it’s because… they were children when the Professor took them in. Scared and uncertain about who and what they were. He taught them. Helped them realize their full potential. He helped them grow up… and that’s just it. They’ve grown up. They’re not children anymore. They have to live their own lives now.
Wolverine rudely interjects and tells her that if they want out that badly, then they should go; split; take off! What do they care? He asks her to just do them a favor and spare them the soap opera. “Why… you…” Iceman exasperates at the sound of this. On the verge of unleashing his freezing powers on Wolverine, he warns him that one more word out of him and he’s going to slam… Wolverine unsheathes his claws and joyously urges him to try it: he never carved up an icicle before.
“That’s enough! Both of you!” Cyclops calls them to order. He tells Wolverine that he’s out of line – and orders him to put his claws away and calm down or he’ll have to deal with him. “Big talk, boss-man…” Wolverine puffs. “Any time you want to try mister. I’ll be ready,” Scott exclaims. Havok intervenes, having another issue to address. He doesn’t want to push his big brother but… what is Scott going to do? Is he coming with them… or staying? Scott admits he doesn’t know. He just doesn’t know.
It’s a long night for Scott Summers. He cannot sleep and, in truth, he doesn’t even try. Instead, he roams the mansion that has been his home for so many years… roams and thinks and remembers… and curses. “Face it, Summers,” he tells himself. No matter which way he cuts it, he’s the one X-Man who can’t hide what he is – and who dares not forget, because if he does, someone might get killed. Killed by his eyes – his big, mutant, energy-blasting eyes! His anguished, desperate cry rings hollow in the stillness. And if anyone hears it, they give no sign, for the mansion is quiet till morning… when old friends gather to say goodbye.
The veteran X-Men come down to the hall, dressed in civilian clothes, carrying their luggage. Distraught, Jean notices that Scott is wearing his costume. Scott tells her that he thought this over all night… and decided to stay. Jean thought he would… but she’d hoped… Scott stresses he’s an X-Man, pure and simple. This is home, his life. This is where he belongs. “Where you belong, Scott,” Jean retorts. But not her – not anymore. “I know,” he replies. A lousy situation, isn’t it? He doesn’t want to lose her. He can’t. He loves her. “And I love you,” Jean answers back and the two share one final, passionate kiss. Then, she is gone, following the others. And Cyclops is alone.
The parting with the rest of the team is a quick one, but the farewells are real and heartfelt, for these people have fought together… faced death together… and that has forged a special bond between them.
Cyclops comes out at the mansion’s front porch where the new X-Men have just seen the veteran members off. He announces that the show’s over. It’s time Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters was a going concern again – time they learned what being an X-Man was all about. He takes them outside the Danger Room. Lesson one is how to stay alive. That’s what the Danger Room is for, to give them a second, maybe two. Time – and the skill to take that time and use it to defeat their opponent. In a word, to survive.
The X-Men peek through the room. Storm is incredulous: an… empty room will do all that? Cyclops tells her that’s right. And the object of the exercise is to cross the room, walk in this door and out the other… Thunderbird thinks “One-Eye” has got to be kidding. And he’s going to call him. “See ya at the exit, troops,” he salutes them as he enters the Danger Room.
Almost immediately, various mechanical sounds can be heard from inside the room, along with Thunderbird’s protests: “What the… Hey! Leggo!” Finally, he is violently expelled from the room back to where he entered. Cyclops nonchalantly completes what the objective of the exercise is: cross the room… “if the room lets you.”
And so it begins. The days and weeks of training, six hours a day, five days a week. Week in, week out, until the halls of this old, venerable Westchester Mansion seem to echo and re-echo with the sounds of battle. Until these neophyte X-Men begin to wonder if there was ever a time when they weren’t fighting for their lives. And when they falter in their exercises in the Danger Room, give in a little, give up, a voice snaps them back into line. A harsh voice, angry, biting, merciless. The voice of Cyclops, who drives the X-Men hard and himself harder. Who takes six proud, unique individuals, six loners and outcasts, and forges them into a team. But even the X-Men are only human. Pushed to beyond the limit, exhaustion begins to take its toll on teacher and students both.
One day, one mistake occurs in the Danger Room. Cyclops warns Thunderbird to look out: the lasers… he’s cutting it too close! It is too late, however, as John’s right leg is burned by the laser beams. John screams and sprawls. Sean tells him to take it easy: that’s a nasty burn on his leg. He offers to help him up. “Back off, Shamrock!” Thunderbird rebuffs him. He doesn’t need his help. Not from him… not from anybody. Managing to stand up, despite his pain, and clutching his wound, he assures “One-Eye” he’s okay…
Growing sick of the nickname John has given him, Scott reminds him his name is Cyclops… and he’s not ‘okay’. He’s got news for Thunderbird: if this were combat, and those lasers running at full strength, he’d have lost his leg. He’s careless. And his carelessness could get them all killed! John bursts out: Cyclops has been riding him since the day he got here… and he has had it! He tells Scott to lay off him and do it now…. “Or so help, I’ll rearrange your face!” he threatens him, clenching his fists.
Xavier’s astral form appears before them. He demands they cease this disgraceful display immediately! He orders Thunderbird to report to the infirmary. As for Scott… he is to see him in his office. Way to go, hotshot… Thunderbird mentally reprimands himself. Looks like he’s blown another chance for himself – maybe the last one. Catching Storm staring at him, he asks her what the matter is. Does it bother her to work with a loser? Ororo explains she sees no ‘loser’. In this room, she sees only a man.
Chapter Two: Death O’er Valhalla High!
In the Rockies, in Colorado State, some forty miles west of Colorado Springs, there stands a mountain. Lonely, forbidding, thrusting its rough, granite face nearly two miles high into the crisp, cool, rocky mountain air. The mountain is called, the home of the gods in Norse mythology. Those who know it better, call it… death. For Valhalla Mountain is headquarters of NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command. And buried deep within the mountain, safe from any enemy, secure from even a 100-megaton thermonuclear bomb is the NORAD war room, operational command of the most powerful war machine ever conceived.
“Heads up, joy boys! Mail call!” one of the security guards announces and throws a small package to one of his colleagues, a man called Joe Harris. Harris is surprised: he wasn’t expecting anything. Another man notes it looks like it’s Harris’ lucky day. “Guess so,” Harris murmurs. He wonders what it is. Unrolling the small parcel, he sees his gift: a tiny box, with a red “Press Me” button on it. He wonders if this was somebody’s idea of a gag or something – what is going on here? The other man tells him that maybe it’s that Raquel Welch doll he wanted for Christmas! “Very funny,” Harris snaps and presses the button. “So help me, if you clowns are behind this, I’ll…”
He never finishes his phrase: “Oh my God…” he gasps, as the box disappears, leaving in its place a shimmering silver oval, a hole in the air, a rip in the fabric of time and space – in short, a portal. And through that portal erupts a nightmare. Five of them, in fact. All of them deadly, none of them even remotely human: the Ani-Men, hybrids of men and animals, Croaker (frog), Gort (ape), Cat-Man (cat), Bird-Man (bird) and Dragonfly (insectoid). In the ensuing battle, the stunned, unarmed guards are quickly routed. One of the guards manages to get to a phone and call his superiors: Intruder alert in the war room! He begs them to get every man available down here – and hurry!
In minutes, the vast complex is mobilized, with troops on the move. Several of them storm into the war room. Upon seeing the Ani-Men, who have made short work of the guards, they order them to haul it: this isn’t a drill! Pointing their guns at the ‘freaks’, they tell them the party is over: one wrong move and they’re dead! Gort is annoyed: how do the humans dare to threaten him?! He grabs one of the unconscious guards and throws him over at the soldiers at incredible speed. The second battle is like the second: quickly joined, quickly ended. The Ani-Men are again the victor.
The creatures hear a voice telling them he had expected victory, but not so great as rout as this; he is proud of them. He congratulates the Ani-Men. Dragonfly wonders who speaks. “Who d’ya think, Dragonfly? It’s the boss,” Croaker exclaims. Their lord and master. Count Nefaria appears and reiterates that he is indeed their lord and master. They should do well to remember that, if they harbor any hopes of ever becoming human again. But no more of that. Lighting a cigar, he remarks that his plan goes according to schedule and all is well. The war room is theirs.
Cat-Man wonders for how long. There’s a whole army manning this place. How are the five of them supposed to hold them off? Nefaria tells him he does not expect them to. He points them at a button: by pressing this and flooding the mountain with anesthetic gas, he has neutralized this army they seem to fear so much.
The action done, he announces to his minion that, in all Valhalla base, they are now the only ones still conscious. And, once again, he is triumphant, this time to hold the fate of a world in his hands. These fools thought him defeated, destroyed, when his assault on Washington failed those many months ago. All thought wrong. He escaped from prison, and began planning anew, calling in old debts and using Maggia science to create stronger allies, to make these five less than human… and far, far more… so that this day they ransom not a mere city, but the world! And now, he addresses his ‘children’ as he turns to the console, the game begins in earnest.
At the X-Mansion, Cyclops is brooding, lost in reflections. He wonders if his job as the leader is worth the grief. Nightcrawler interrupts his thoughts. He apologizes; he didn’t mean to intrude. Cyke tells him it’s okay. He was just thinking. He urges him to come on in. What can he do for him? Kurt rejoins that he was actually wondering if there was anything he could do for Scott. His argument with Thunderbird, it upset him, no? Cyclops admits it did upset him. They were both careless. Except that Scott was responsible and Thunderbird ended up taking all the lumps.
Xavier’s astral form intervenes and asks them to report to the briefing room: something important has come up. “On our way, Professor,” Cyclops readily replies. He and Kurt rush out of the room. Addressing Scott as “my friend,” Kurt confides in him that, if he remains an X-Man to his dying day, he will never get used to that. “Welcome to the club… friend,” Scott replies.
In the briefing room, Charles asks them all to sit down and pay attention; this is of vital importance. On the monitor, Count Nefaria is shown, announcing that he seized control of Valhalla Base, the NORAD command center. He has activated the Doomsmith command system – and now possesses operational control of America’s strategic missile force. He demands a ransom from each nation on Earth, the amount to be determined by each nation’s ability to pay. If his demands are not met, he shall launch America’s entire inventory of nuclear missiles! They have three hours to decide, he concludes – and his broadcast is finished.
Nice guy, Wolverine quips. He wonders what he does for an encore. The former X-Man known as Beast appears on the screen and informs Xavier that was the story. Startled by the strangers present in the briefing room with Xavier, he asks Charles what happened to the X-Men. Charles reveals these are the X-Men and asks him to continue. Hank explains that the Air Force asked the Avengers for help, but they can’t handle it right now, so he figured the X-Men could.
Cyclops tells his crew that they heard the Beast – they must get going. Noting that Thunderbird is injured, though, he decides he has to stay behind. Enraged, Thunderbird asks him if he wants try sucking through a mouthful of knuckles! He insists he’s going! Charles intervenes and pleads Scott: there’s no time to argue! Thunderbird can go! Judging from what Hank said, Scott will need every X-Man to defeat Nefaria in time.
Minutes later, the X-Men are aloft, screaming westward on their Blackbird aircraft. Wolverine confides in Banshee that he’s got some friends in Valhalla. If this Nefaria’s hurt any of them, he thinks he’s going to cut him into very… tiny pieces… Sean believes he’s joshing… isn’t he? Cyclops wishes Wolverine gets his chance; right now, they’ve got troubles of their own: the U.S. Air Force.
One of the U.S. pilots patrolling the area radios the Blackbird and informs they are in restricted area. They are to report or they will open fire on them. Cyclops reports that they are responding to Avengers call. The pilot connects him with General Fredericks on Tac Ten. Fredericks appears on the ship’s monitor. Cyke greets him: it’s been a long time. Fredericks asks who this is: Iron Man? Cap? Scott reveals the Avengers couldn’t make it; they are the X-Men.
Figures, Fredericks grumps. He might’ve known them muties would show up with Nefaria around. He doesn’t really trust them – but right now, he’s got no choice. Nefaria controls Valhalla and he’s armed the defensive systems – SAM’s, lasers, sonic disruptors, the works – but that’s the least of the X-Men’s worries. The fool has armed the Doomsmith system. It’s an ultimate weapon, a madman’s dream, to be used when there’s no hope of survival, when all of them are dead. It gives Nefaria absolute control over the US missile arsenal. What Nefaria doesn’t know is that, beyond a certain point, the system can’t be shut down. The missiles will fire automatically and no power on Earth can stop them. Nefaria’s deadline is two hours away – but the X-Men have only fifty-two minutes to cancel the Doomsmith. Fredericks concludes by wishing Cyclops good luck. He’ll need it, starting from now.
In the Valhalla base, Dragonfly announces to her master than an aircraft is entering the defense perimeter. Nefaria watches the monitor. The fools launch yet another futile attack, he sneers. Interestingly, the computer identifies the aircraft as… the X-Men! Nefaria relishes in the unexpected turn of events: this is too rich a jest! His greatest foes walking into a parlor, like lambs going to slaughter. And slaughter them he shall – without pity or mercy. The fools sought Nefaria. Let them instead find death!
At his command, three missiles are fired towards the approaching aircraft. Nightcrawlers warns Cyclops upon seeing them but Scott assures him he saw them too. He tells everyone to hold on, because right about now the going gets rough. Barely missing being hit by the missiles, Cyclops makes for a dangerous maneuver. The modified SR-71 Blackbird nose-dives, before returning on a horizontal course just a few feet above the ground. The plane skips the tree line beneath at a bare twenty feet, its Mach 4 sonic booms thundering through the narrow passes. Cyclops’ mad, desperate gamble pays off… almost. Two of the missiles pursuing the X-Men’s aircraft crash on the ground. But then Wolverine looks out of the window that one of those little futzers got away. Heads up, he warns them, it’s gonna…
It’s not a direct hit that comes from the sole remaining missile, but a Mach 4, even a near miss can kill. In an instant, the delicate Blackbird is tearing itself apart. Scott realizes stability’s gone; he can’t control her! Their only chance is for him to press a red switch that reads “Eject”… “Made it!” he screams as he presses it – and a part of the Blackbird lifts upward, separating itself from the dying part of the ship which crashes down in flames. Scott believes that, if they are lucky, the crash shielded the lifting body from Nefaria’s sensors. As far as he knows, they are dead… and they still have a chance to stop him.
Contrary to Cyclops’ hopes, back at the Valhalla base, Nefaria exasperates at that very instant: by all that’s unholy, the X-Men still live! How many times must he kill them before those cursed mutants stay dead? Very well, then – they will find him a more than worthy foe. He releases Valhalla’s sonic disruptors, wishing to see whether they can survive that. Fiery emerald coruscations bathe the lifting part of Blackbird for a moment. When the disruptor beam is gone, the lifting body is gone as well. The X-Men find themselves in freefall.